Memphis, April 3, 1968. Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is visited by an irreverent and mysterious maid who inspires him to question his spirituality and legacy. Katori Hall’s Olivier Award-winning drama is hailed by Entertainment Weekly as “daring, rousing and provocative.” As we reflect on the sunset of the Obama Presidency, Hall takes us to the summit of MLK’s historic life and offers a stunning new view of his dream for our nation.
Approximate run time is 95 minutes with no intermission. Best enjoyed by ages 13+
Join us for free post-performance discussions with the cast on Thursday evenings (10/6, 10/13, 10/20, 10/27) and after Sunday matinees (10/9, 10/16, 10/23, 10/30). Free with ticket purchase!
Community Conversation - October 18th
Join us for a dynamic post-show discussion with area experts including Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, Associate Professor Temple University and Rev. Neal Jones, Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon, and Nadira Beard, Lead Artist - New Voices, People’s Light
(free with ticket purchase to that evening's performance.)
Scoop on Wednesdays: History, Context, and Gossip
Join us for a lively discussion before Wednesday 7:30pm performances. Resident Dramaturg Gina Pisasale will host an artist from the production and get the inside scoop about such things as the rehearsal and production process, design choices, and the world of the play. The program begins at 6pm in The Farmhouse Bistro on October 12th, 19th, and 26th. Cost of $15 includes light fare. Call the Box Office at 610.644.3500 to purchase.
Dinner & A Show Packages
Enjoy a prix fixe dinner and a show package for $76 (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday matinee, Sunday evening) and $85 (Friday, Saturday evening, Sunday matinee) at The Farmhouse Bistro prior to the Wed-Sun evening performances. That's a savings of up to 15% off the single ticket price.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Bowman Wright* Camae: Patrese D. McClain*
Director: Steve H. Broadnax III
Set Design: Tony Cisek
Costume Designer: Marla Jurglanis
Lighting Designer: Joshua Schulman
Sound Designer: Justin Ellington
Dramaturg: Gina Pisasale
Production Stage Manager: Deborah Teller*
Line Producer: Abigail Adams
Projection Designer: Katherine Freer
* Member, Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers.
Patrese D. McClainCamae
People's Light debut. Theatre includes: Cocked (Victory Gardens); Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight (Windy City Playhouse); White Guy On The Bus (Northlight, Jeff Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress 2015); Tartuffe, Misanthrope, Spunk (Court Theatre, Jeff Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress for Spunk 2011). Regional: Two Trains Running (GEVA Theatre Center); Crumbs From The Table Of Joy (Mustard Seed); Romeo and Juliet, Pericles, For Colored Girls, No Child... (Black Rep, St. Louis Circle Theatre Award for Best Actress for No Child... 2013). Film/Television Includes: NBC Chicago Fire, USA Sirens, ABC Detroit 1-8-7. Training: MFA Pennsylvania State University, BFA Howard University. patresedmcclain.com
Bowman WrightDr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
People's Light debut. Theatre Includes: Last seen at the Arena Stage in All the Way as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Seven Guitars (Actor's Theatre of Louisville), King Hedley (Arena Stage), Our Lady of Kibeho (Signature Theatre Company), A Raisin in the Sun (Dallas Theatre Center), A Midsummer Night's Dream (La Jolla Playhouse), The Dreamer Examines His Pillow (Shakespeare & Company). Film/Television Includes: Person of Interest, Blue Bloods, Elementary and Sight. Training: MFA, University of California, San Diego; BFA, University of the Arts.
In The Mountaintop, playwright Katori Hall reimagines the last night of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. On April 3 1968, the eve of King’s assassination, he enters room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, tired and hoarse. He calls for room service and Camae, a beautiful motel maid, arrives with his coffee. Before long, they are sharing cigarettes, a flask of whisky, and frank conversation about King’s plans, the efficacy of his nonviolent tactics, fissures in the Movement, and his family. While Camae responds to King’s philosophies and anxieties with both sympathy and criticism and offers her own ideas and opinions, it becomes gradually evident that she “ain’t yo’ ordinary ole maid.” As time marches forward towards that fateful shot, it is Camae that ultimately brings King to the complicated but hopeful vision of the Mountaintop.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: a man with great humanity Camae: an outspoken maid on her first day of work who becomes much more than meets the eye
Katori Hall (May 10, 1981-) was born in Memphis, TN, where she grew up with four older sisters. Her father worked for Kraft and her mother was a phlebotomist, jokingly called “the vampire” by her family. Hall describes listening to her parents tell stories of their days around the table as “watching one-person shows.”
Hall participated in a gifted students program in elementary school, which provided her with her first theatre experience. She saw The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and was enchanted. Hall graduated high school in 1999 as Valedictorian and with a full scholarship to Columbia University. Although pursuing a journalism degree, she fell in love with theatre after an acting course.
In this class, Hall was paired with another young black woman and was instructed to find scenes with “characters that looked like them.” The harsh reality of the lack of black characters in theatre hit Hall, and she resolved to write the characters herself. After graduation, she went to Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater, which allowed her to attend the Moscow Art Theatre School for her residency. She acted and worked in the communications department for an XM radio for a few years, but knew she was meant to be a writer.
She entered the Juilliard Playwright Program with her only piece written at the time, Hoodoo Love, a play about an escapee of the Mississippi cotton fields that pursues her dream of singing in Memphis. Hall began writing The Mountaintop shortly after entering Julliard, basing the character Camae after her mother, Carrie May Golden. On April 3, 1968, Katori’s mother, Carrie Mae Golden (or “Camae”), wanted to hear King speak at Mason Temple; however, Camae’s mother, fearful of a bombing, did not allow her to go. Golden always expressed deep regret that she didn’t defy her mother and brave the weather to hear King speak. With The Mountaintop, Katori Hall gives her mother the chance to meet the legendary civil rights leader.
The Mountaintop received its world premiere in London, winning the Olivier Award for Best New play in 2010, and quickly premiered on Broadway starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. Her play The Blood Quilt, a story of four disconnected sisters coming together after their mother’s death, premiered at Arena Stage in 2015. Hall is now enjoying the success of her latest work, Our Lady of Kibeho, a play based on the true story of three Rwandan girls who claimed to see a vision of Mary in 1982.
Hall’s plays include: The Mountaintop (2010 Olivier Award for Best New Play), which ran on Broadway at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre starring Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson, Hurt Village (2011 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Signature Theatre), Children of Killers (National Theatre, UK and Castillo Theatre, NYC), Hoodoo Love (Cherry Lane Theatre), Remembrance (Women’s Project), Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, WHADDABLOODCLOT!!! (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Our Lady of Kibeho (Signature Theatre) and Pussy Valley (Mixed Blood). Her awards include the Lark Play Development Center Playwrights of New York (PoNY) Fellowship, the ARENA Stage American Voices New Play Residency, the Kate Neal Kinley Fellowship, two Lecomte du Nouy Prizes from Lincoln Center, the Fellowship of Southern Writers Bryan Family Award in Drama, a NYFA Fellowship, the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award, the Columbia University John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement, the Otto Rene Castillo Award for Political Theatre, and the Otis Guernsey New Voices Playwriting Award. Hall’s journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, UK’s The Guardian, Essence and The Commercial Appeal, including contributing reporting for Newsweek. The Mountaintop and Katori Hall: Plays One are published by Methuen Drama. Hall is an alumna of the Lark Playwrights’ Workshop, where she developed The Mountaintop and Our Lady of Kibeho, and a graduate of Columbia University, the A.R.T. at Harvard University, and the Juilliard School. She is a proud member of the Ron Brown Scholar Program, the Coca-Cola Scholar Program, the Dramatists Guild, Writers Guild of America East and the Fellowship of Southern Writers. She is currently a member of the Residency Five at Signature Theatre Company in New York City. Katori will make her directing debut with a film adaptation of Hurt Village which received its world premiere at Signature in 2012.
THE WORLD OF THE PLAY
The play takes place on April 3, 1968 in room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
King in 1968
The Civil Rights Movement generally refers to the variety of campaigns by groups and individual citizens striving for racial equality between 1954 (the year school segregation was ruled unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education) and 1968 (the year of King’s death). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is known as one of the movement’s most iconic leaders, but in 1968 his commanding status was growing increasingly tenuous.
Pushing beyond the call for civil rights, King spoke out against the Vietnam War in 1967, acknowledging that this position “may mean the death of your popularity. It may mean the death of your bridge to the White House. It may mean the death of a foundation grant…Come what may.” As he predicted, his continued public demand for a war settlement resulted in severed ties with President Johnson, who had been one of his committed supporters. Harris polls also showed that most African Americans did not support his anti-war stance.
A mere seven months after his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, he announced his Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the King-led umbrella organization mainly comprised of southern Black ministers that supported local and coordinated national civil rights efforts. With his PPC, King envisioned a multiracial constituency tackling economic oppression. He planned to bring poor folks from the most impoverished cities across the country to occupy the Washington Mall, creating a shantytown that “would bring the sights, smells, and sentiments of human suffering to the front door of politicians and legislators.”**
By 1968, King was facing growing disparagement from both his critics and his followers. The movement’s youth, such as Stokely Carmichael and others among the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were growing impatient with what they felt to be the ineffectual tactics of nonviolent civil protest. The more militant call for Black Power propagated by the emerging Black Panther Party energized local youth to form more radical organizations, such as Coby Smith and Charles Cabbage’s Invaders in Memphis. While King believed that the anti-war and PPC agendas would unite the movement, his own SCLC staff, already stretched thin, argued that these larger aims were too broad and would dilute their main cause. In March of 1968, King fanatically travelled across the South on a breakneck schedule trying to garner support for his larger campaign for humanity, regardless of race or nationality. In one week, he delivered 35 speeches during what one of his followers called King’s “war on sleep.” Despite his efforts, not one of the invited 120 black ministers came to a PPC organizational meeting in Virginia on March 23, 1968.
In addition to philosophical rifts within the movement, King’s critics also began to discredit his ability to organize a peaceful protest. The march to support the Sanitation Workers’ Strike in Memphis on March 28th devolved into violent chaos when members of the Invaders began looting. 16-year-old Larry Payne was shot and killed by police and hundreds were injured. The FBI and House Un-American Activities Committee had long tracked King’s movements, but the violent chaos fed directly into their belief that King was angling for a “ghetto uprising.” For King, the future of the movement and his own redemption came down to his successes in Memphis, Tennessee in April of 1968.
Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike (1968)
Adapted from The King Institute at Stanford University. "Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike (1968)." Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle. (accessed September 22, 2016).
MNT explore 09
On February 1, 1968, Memphis garbage collectors Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck.
Twelve days later, frustrated by the city’s response to the latest event in a long pattern of neglect and abuse of its black employees, 1,300 black men from the Memphis Department of Public Works went on strike. Led by garbage-collector-turned-union-organizer, T. O. Jones, sanitation workers demanded recognition of their union, better safety standards, and a decent wage. Many were on welfare and hundreds relied on food stamps to feed their families. Within a week, the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed a resolution supporting the strike.
Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, who had taken office in January of 1968 winning with anti-union and pro-segregation slogans such as “Law and Order” and “Be Proud Again,” refused to recognize the Sanitation Workers’ union. When he took office, he tightened labor policies that did away with overtime pay, refused to fill open positions so remaining employees were forced to do more work, and refused to replace dilapidated and faulty equipment.
On 22 February, pressured by a sit-in of sanitation workers and their supporters, City Council voted to recognize the union and recommended a wage increase. Mayor Loeb rejected the Council’s vote, however, insisting that only he had the authority to recognize the union and refused to do so. The following day, police used mace and tear gas against nonviolent demonstrators marching to City Hall.
On 24 February King’s longtime ally, local minister James Lawson gathered 150 local ministers in a church basement and formed Community on the Move for Equality (COME). COME committed to the use nonviolent civil disobedience to fill Memphis’s jails and bring attention to the plight of the sanitation workers. By the beginning of March, local high school and college students, nearly a quarter of them white, were participating alongside garbage workers in daily marches; and over one hundred people, including several ministers, had been arrested.
National civil rights leaders, including Roy Wilkins and Bayard Rustin, came to support and rally the sanitation workers. On March 18, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived and addressed a crowd of about 25,000 – the largest indoor gathering the civil rights movement had ever seen. He praised the group’s unity saying, “You are demonstrating that we can stick together. You are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny, and that if one black person suffers, if one black person is down, we are all down.” King encouraged a citywide work stoppage and pledged to return that Friday, March 22nd, to lead a march through the city that would begin at Clayborn Temple.
King left Memphis the following day, but Southern Christian Leaderships Conference’s (SCLC) James Bevel and Ralph Abernathy remained to help organize the protest and work stoppage. When the day arrived, however, a massive snowstorm blanketed the region, preventing King from reaching Memphis and causing the organizers to reschedule the march.
On March 28th, an estimated 22,000 students skipped school to participate in the demonstration. Many confronted police on their way to Clayborn Temple. Their youthful presence infused the growing crowd with impatience and aggression. King arrived late and found a massive crowd on the brink of pandemonium.
King, Lawson, and Abernathy led the march but in less than 30 minutes, a riot broke out behind them and quickly consumed the march. King was whisked away to a nearby hotel as downtown shops were looted. Police began using clubs, mace, and tear gas to “restore order” which only fueled the marching youths. In the chaos, 16-year-old Larry Payne was shot and killed by police. Demonstrators fled back to Clayborn Temple, but police released tear gas inside the sanctuary and clubbed people as they lay on the floor to get fresh air. Later, the Invaders, a black youth group committed to “Black Power” were accused of starting the violence.
Loeb called for martial law and brought in 4,000 National Guard troops. The following day, over 200 striking workers continued their daily march, carrying signs that read, “I Am a Man”
King considered not returning to Memphis, but decided that if the nonviolent struggle for economic justice was going to succeed it would be necessary to follow through with the movement there. After a divisive meeting on 30 March, SCLC staff agreed to support King’s return to Memphis. He arrived on April 3rd and was persuaded to speak by a crowd of dedicated sanitation workers who had braved a storm to hear him give his final speech.
Honey, Going Down Jericho Road, 2007.
King, "Address at Mass Meeting at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple," 18 March 1968, MVC-TMM.
King, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," A Call to Conscience, ed. Carson and Shepard, 2001.
The Lorraine Motel, located at 450 Mulberry Street, in downtown Memphis, opened its doors in the mid-twenties. It had sixteen rooms and stood just east of the Mississippi River. It was first named the Windsor Hotel, and later the Marquette Hotel. Then, in 1945, Walter and Loree Bailey bought it and named it after Loree, as well as the popular song “Sweet Lorraine,” which artists including Rudy Vallée, Teddy Wilson, and Nat King Cole had recorded. The couple expanded the hotel by adding more guest rooms and drive-up access, transforming it into a motel. It was a modest establishment, but it would change everything about their lives.
As a hotel, the Windsor and the Marquette were all-white establishments. Under the Baileys’ ownership, the Lorraine Motel became a safe haven for black travelers and visitors to Memphis. The motel was listed in “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” also known as the Green Guide, a compilation of hotels, restaurants, gas stations, beauty parlors, barber shops, and other businesses that were friendly to African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. Given the motel’s proximity to Beale Street and Stax Records, black songwriters and musicians would stay at the Lorraine while they were recording in Memphis. Negro League baseball players and the Harlem Globetrotters also spent time at the motel. The Baileys welcomed black and white guests, served home-cooked meals, and offered an upscale environment. Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Nat King Cole were all guests. As Isaac Hayes reminisced, “We’d go down to the Lorraine Motel and we’d lay by the pool and Mr. Bailey would bring us fried chicken and we’d eat ice cream. . . . We’d just frolic until the sun goes down and [then] we’d go back to work.” Two famous songs, “In the Midnight Hour” and “Knock on Wood,” were written at the motel.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was the Lorraine Motel’s most famous guest. He stayed at the motel numerous times while visiting the city, and again in the spring of 1968, when he came to Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers. On April 4, 1968, he stepped out of Room 306 and talked to friends in the parking lot below. He asked the saxophonist Ben Branch to play “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at the rally that evening. As King turned to walk back into his room, a bullet struck him in the neck, taking his life instantly. Loree Bailey suffered a stroke when she heard the shot fired. She died on April 9th, the same day as King’s funeral.
Walter Bailey continued to run the motel, but he never rented Room 306 again. He turned it into a memorial. The room has been preserved to capture exactly what it looked like on that tragic night. There are two beds. (King was sharing the room with Dr. Ralph Abernathy, a friend.) King’s bed was not fully made because he was not feeling well and had been lying down. Dishes left in the room were from the kitchen where Loree Bailey prepared food for the motel’s guests.
In 1982, Walter Bailey declared bankruptcy and stood by helplessly as his high-end establishment became a brothel. The Lorraine would have been sold at auction, but the Save the Lorraine organization bought it and decided to transform it into a museum.
The Lorraine Motel still stands on Mulberry Street. It is instantly recognizable, and appears as though suspended in another time. Two large cars—a white 1959 Dodge Royal with lime green fins and a white 1968 Cadillac—are parked in front of the motel, and the aqua doors to the rooms are numbered with a sparse font. The large motel sign features “Lorraine” printed in a dramatic script against a bright yellow background, and “Motel” is written in large red block letters, each letter stamped inside its own white circle. A large white wreath hangs on the balcony outside Room 306, to memorialize the spot where King stood at the time of the assassination. Standing in front of the motel transports visitors to a bygone era. If you close your eyes, the iconic photograph of King’s friends pointing off into the distance, at the place from which they believed the shot was fired, comes into sharp view.
The motel is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. Filled with artifacts, films, oral histories, and interactive media, the exhibits guide visitors through five centuries of history, from slave resistance to the numerous protests of the American civil-rights movement. The dulcet voice of the gospel singer and civil-rights activist Mahalia Jackson fills the small corridor where visitors can gaze into Room 306. (Jackson performed “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral.) Visits to the museum conclude with a video of images of the anti-apartheid movement, the election of President Obama, and other major events of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. As visitors exit the museum, they glimpse their shadows cast against a wall of silhouetted marchers, a symbolic way of encouraging visitors to join the ongoing movement for racial justice and equality.
Walter Bailey died in July, 1988, just over a year after the motel closed. He did not live to see the opening of the National Civil Rights Museum, in 1991. His “Sweet Lorraine” would never be the same building that had held so much promise when he and Loree bought it. Perhaps there is some consolation in knowing that the Lorraine welcomes more guests now than ever before.
** Faedra Chatard Carpenter, introduction to The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall (New York: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2015), 7.
For The Mountaintop it was clear from the start that a portrait honoring Dr. King would be the obvious choice for the artwork. The question was then, what materials would best speak to the message of the play. We discussed the idea that this should be about creating a link between MLK’s powerful work and the present day issues of race and power. This should be something relevant and alive. So what does the post-King America look like? Sadly there are a lot of dead bodies. There’s public grieving and a fervent call to make #blacklivesmatter. We chose shoes as our medium, since they represent the diverse people that wore them. Young/old, male/female, black/white. These are the people that carry on King’s legacy, but also the people lost along the way. Shoes are frequently used in protests to represent people that have been lost to violence. Lined up in public places, these dramatic installations silently stand as a reminder of the very real humans behind the abstract numbers we encounter daily. What these shoes represent moving forward will be up to each of us individually. — Noah Scalin / noahscalin.com